Note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct funding information.
LEAVENWORTH — A group of teenagers stood on a platform, calling out to a student on another platform, encouraging her to swing across on a rope.
She managed to do it without touching the ground, and they made room for her. Eventually about 10 students were all on the same platform, and they celebrated their success.
Through a Community Foundation of North Central Washington grant, Washington State University Extension has been working with WestSide High School in Wenatchee and other local schools for its 4-H Eco-Stewardship program.
Along with schoolwork and projects, the annual program includes field trips, like Wednesday’s to the Tierra Learning Center near Leavenworth.
“In this day and age, students are very used to listening and being told what to think, expect, feel and what have you,” said Andrew Wainwright, experiential education assistant with WSU Extension. “I find it really powerful for them to have the opportunity to teach themselves. They know what they need to learn better than I do. Rather than me telling them and having them figure out how to learn in my classroom, I figure out how they learn and I figure out a strategy to support that.”
Seth Wendzel, experiential education coordinator for WSU Extension, leads the program. SkillSource and Discovery School have also been involved.
In another activity Wednesday, WestSide students had to try to take a log from a student whose back was turned. The student guarding the log then turned around and guessed who had the log while the other students faced away from him.
A correct guess would reset the game, but if he guessed wrong, the other students would keep heading toward the finish line.
“I’m trying to get them to communicate, make a plan, have a strategy and vision, and share it with each other,” Wainwright said.
Junior Denim Mendall, 17, guarded the log for one round.
“In this community, we help out each other,” he said. “We all actually have social skills that we need to work on, or disabilities.”
Mendall, who has autism, said the program has helped him “immensely” with making friends and learning to work in a team.
Freshman Jacqueline Brigleb, 14, said she enjoyed the rope activity.
“We had to trust the other people would catch us and try our best to get across without failing,” she said. “I think it’ll help me with just talking to other people around me. I have trouble communicating with people when I have an idea for anything. I think just doing a lot of activities helps me get to know people. That way, I can better understand people and work with them.”
Megan Cross, a math and science teacher at WestSide, said along with team-building exercises, students have learned about the environment. They’ve gone snowshoeing and river rafting, biked the Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail, and learned about plants.
Students can participate in the program for two years in a row, Cross said.
“As a science teacher, I think this is some of the best education they’re getting because it relates to their lives,” she said. “They can actually see it, and they can share it with family and friends, like, ‘Oh, the snow’s going to melt and come down. That’s why the river’s big in the spring.’ It makes science relevant.”